The Role of Autophagy in Maintaining Skin Health


Ever wondered how your skin stays healthy? Autophagy could be the key to your healthy skin.

autophagy in maintaining skin health

The skin is our body’s largest defender that shields us from environmental dangers like UV damage, toxins, injuries, and harmful microorganisms.

Autophagy assists in this protective role of the skin. It helps in the removal of damaged skin cells caused by toxins or injuries, supporting skin repair and maintenance. Additionally, autophagy contributes to fighting harmful microorganisms, improving overall skin health and resilience.

Let’s explore the various ways autophagy supports skin health.

Autophagy in skin aging

As previously mentioned, our skin acts as a shield against the world around us. As we age, it requires continuous repair and renewal. Autophagy serves as a helpful tool in this process, maintaining our skin’s health and balance across different layers. It keeps our skin healthy and balanced as we get older. This happens at different layers of skin.

In the outer layer, autophagy works constantly when our skin cells change to become the tough outer layer. It makes our skin more resistant to stress from the environment and fights aging signs like wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin tone.

Autophagy also holds significance for other vital skin cells, such as melanocytes responsible for skin color and sweat gland cells. These cells rely on autophagy to function well as we age. Moreover, in the deeper skin layer (called the dermis), where age-related changes occur, autophagy contributes to cell health, maintaining skin structure and strength.

Autophagy in skin diseases

Autophagy plays a role in various skin diseases. Its abnormal level or malfunctioning is often linked to several skin conditions. Here are a few examples:

Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition marked by redness and white scales. It affects about 2% of the global population and causes long-term distress to those affected. Autophagy’s connection to psoriasis is verified in human trials.

Plants-derived compounds, called phytochemicals, are often used to treat psoriasis. Many of these compounds have shown the ability to activate autophagy. Researchers are trying to identify phytochemicals that can specifically target autophagy to treat psoriasis. They think that by targeting autophagy, phytochemicals derived from plants could offer tools for developing new treatments for psoriasis.

Lupus: Lupus is a long-lasting autoimmune condition caused by various genetic and environmental factors. It impacts several essential organs and often involves skin-related issues. Numerous studies have found abnormal levels of autophagy in blood from lupus-prone people. Drugs activating autophagy like rapamycin, have shown positive effects in preventing lupus development in individuals diagnosed with Lupus.

Skin Infection: Autophagy protects our skin from various infections caused by germs such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Researchers have coined the term Xenophagy for this type of autophagy.

When germs attack the skin, Xenophagy kicks in to catch those germs and eliminate them. Researchers consider it a form of the immune system that not only gets rid of harmful germs but also triggers the production of substances that protect us and starts a process that helps our body recognize and fight these invaders.

Skin cancer: The role of autophagy in skin cancer is controversial. It may prevent the formation of skin tumors, particularly in the early stages. However, it could also support the survival of established tumors when faced with environmental stresses, such as bacterial infections. This specific type of autophagy, linked to bacterial infections, raises questions about the role of autophagy in tumor initiation and the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Researchers are actively exploring these connections to better understand autophagy’s involvement in skin cancer.

Autophagy in healing skin wounds

When our skin gets injured, it goes through a healing process involving various types of cells. Some wounds, especially those in diabetic individuals, can be really tough to heal and cause serious health concerns. Studies have highlighted that autophagy plays a vital role in helping wounds heal at different stages.

Inflammation stage: Autophagy acts as a shield against infections during this stage. It also prevents too much inflammation that could harm the skin tissues.

Growth and repair stage: In wounded areas with low oxygen, autophagy initiates to protect cells from dying and reduces stress caused by harmful substances. In simple words, it provides a survival mechanism for the cells. Specific cells in the skin, like those forming blood vessels and skin cells, benefit from autophagy. Autophagy helps in creating new blood vessels, and further helps skin cells grow, move, and change to cover the wound.

Remodeling stage: After the wound starts healing, autophagy in certain cells affects how scars form. It influences whether scars will be thick or not.

In diabetic wounds, there might be higher levels of autophagy, making the healing process more complicated. Figuring out how to control autophagy in specific cells, like those with the potential to heal wounds, could be really helpful.


The skin relies heavily on autophagy to stay healthy and protected. Autophagy clears out old or damaged cells, and this is vital for maintaining the skin’s youthfulness, health, and defense against diseases. Additionally, this crucial process is essential for healing skin wounds. Thus, it ensures that the skin bounces back after injuries and recovers well.

Written by


Leave a Comment